Scientists have confirmed for the 1st time that the Amazon rainforest is now emitting more carbon dioxide than it can absorb. According to a study, the emissions amount to a billion tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. The forest has been a carbon dioxide sink previously, absorbing the emissions driving the climate crisis, but is now causing its acceleration, researchers said.
Fires are causing most of the emissions; many deliberately set to clear land for soy and production and beef. The hot temperatures and droughts mean the south-eastern Amazon has become a carbon dioxide source rather than a sink. Since 1960, plants and trees have taken up about a quarter of all fossil fuel emissions. The Amazon became the largest tropical forest.
Over the last decade, to measure CO2 levels up to 4,500m above the forest, the researchers used small planes and showed how Amazon is changing. Earlier studies indicating that Amazon was becoming the source of carbon dioxide were based on satellite data, which can be hampered by ground measurements of trees or cloud cover, covering only a tiny part of the vast region.
The scientist said the discovery that part of the Amazon was emitting carbon dioxide even without fires was particularly worrying. According to them, it is most likely because of each year’s fire and deforestation, making adjacent forests more susceptible the following year. Much of the region’s rain is produced by the trees, so fewer trees mean more heatwaves and severe droughts and more tree deaths and fires.
Luciana Gatti, at the National Institute for Space Research in Brazil and who led the research, said: “The first very bad news is that forest burning produces around three times more CO2 than the forest absorbs. The second bad news is that the places where deforestation is 30% or more show carbon dioxide emissions 10 times higher than where deforestation is lower than 20%.”
Gatti also said that fewer trees mean higher temperatures and less rain, making the dry season even worse for the remaining forest. Much of the soy, beef and timber from the Amazon is exported from Brazil. A global agreement is needed to save Amazon.